Tuesday, August 14, 2007

ABC's "NASCAR in Primetime" Offers Video Previews

Trying to pin down as much information as possible about the new ABC Television series NASCAR in Primetime, I surfed over to the ABCnews.go.com website. There are currently four video "teases" available, each with a different theme.

Normally, these turn out to be tightly edited and poorly explained versions of what New York City folks think of NASCAR. That's right, lots of country music and rebel flags.

To my surprise, the first video I saw was an emotional interview with Wisconsin's Johnny Sauter, and it included rare video footage and many references to his hard-luck dad, also a former racer.

Jim Sauter was a perennial back-marker, and the tough memories and words of his son show more of Johnny Sauter than fans have ever seen before on any TV show. Even in this small clip, it was powerful, emotional, and so well edited you could not turn away. I had to watch it over again several times.

Next up was Mark Martin and the Daytona 500. Continuing the raw emotional theme, the show lets Mark speak clearly about what losing the Daytona 500 to Kevin Harvick has done to his life, what it meant in his career, and how he feels now six months later.

Again, the editing was superb, and the focus and frustration of Martin is so very clear. So many fans relate to Mark, his personal struggles, the tragic plane crash that took his father's life, and the fact he is now bringing up a son who drives in the very sport that has cost him so much time as a dad. This was nicely done powerful TV.

ABC seemed to have taken the easy way out with a video of Juan Pablo Montoya. I felt that way until I watched it. Mixing footage from the NASCAR broadcasters, the owners, the crew chief, and even his wife quietly watching from the motorhome, the resulting feeling is one of amazement.

Without one word from Juan, the video just lets his driving do the talking from his in-car camera and the race footage. Again, it made me want to watch it one more time, and I did.

Finally, ABC shows the one missing element that The Daly Planet has been yelling about all year long. That, my friends, would be the fans. Where do they go to have a voice on TV? Where can they go on TV to talk to a driver live and interact with the NASCAR announcers? Where can they even give a hello to their relatives back home? The answer right now on NASCAR's TV partners is absolutely nowhere.

For all their chest-banging about being in the middle of the fans, SPEED's RaceDay avoids the fans except for an ill-timed jib camera swoop that momentarily shows the hand-made signs and the waves for the friends back home. ESPN avoids fans like the plague. When Brent Musburger started the season from the Fan Zone at Daytona, they had a rope set-up to keep away...the fans.

Now, NASCAR in Primetime gives the fans a voice with straightforward commentary and lots of hilarious moments that more resemble an old Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby "kids say the darnedest things" show. It may be that ABC News is finding out what we have known for years, NASCAR fans are the most diverse and fascinating bunch of sports fans anywhere.

They are not glued to a team or driver because of a city, a sponsor, a color, or anything else. They pick their guys because of their personality, and how it relates to their own. The result of that is often times the most hilarious fan interactions one has ever seen. This preview video contains some unique characters.

Regardless of the comments about being politically correct, the overwhelming feeling coming from each of these fans is enthusiasm. Their faces are smiling, their words tumble out of their mouths, and they have no problem telling the camera their feeling about this sport.

Finally, someone has recognized that the biggest pool of NASCAR knowledge does not exist in the garage, it lives and breaths in the grandstands...and always has.

When this TV series was first announced, I was skeptical about this concept, the credentials of the producers, and even the whole "New Yorker" thing. Now, I have changed my tune. Everybody deserves a fair shake, and from what I have seen of this show it has a lot of potential to be a new mainstay for fans during its short run into September.

Montoya is a guest on Good Morning America on Wednesday, to talk about this show and his part in lending his family as subject matter. Then, at 10PM Eastern Time, fans actually get one full hour of NASCAR in Primetime on ABC.

Even though the showtime is a bit late for me, the DVR will be going and I will be watching the show on Thursday and offering my column for your comments. It should be very interesting. If the video previews are a true indication of the oveall content, we might just have another very nice NASCAR show on TV this season.

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